BLACK LOWELL COALITION
"A place for all of us of Black African Descent at home and in the Diaspora "
Veteran's Day 2023
Veterans Day was created as “Armistice Day” on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I. It became a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1938.
It is up to us to remember and honor our own, in spite of what this nation does or how it seeks to change or erase the history that we bled and sacrificed to build. Yes, this Veterans Day, let’s remember our own; and not by running out to catch the latest sales. How about reflecting on how we can individually build on what they left? Things like registering to vote, spending money with those who support us, demanding respect for ourselves and our elders, and remembering that we are still “Black” to America whether we are rich, poor, educated, homeless, or ignorant.
We must honor ourselves before we can demand that others do so.
Basketball's First Black Professional
By Chris Boucher
Harry “Bucky” Lew deserves to be more than a footnote. While he is recognized as basketball’s first Black professional player, he achieved much more than that.
In a career that spanned roughly 25 years, he was the first Black pro player, coach, manager, head referee, and even owner, all in otherwise white leagues.
And it started here in Lowell.
As opposed to today, Lew was well known back in the day. He got his start at the Lowell YMCA in 1898 where he captained several Merrimack Valley championship teams. The Y even defeated MIT in a stunning upset, and the budding rocket scientists told the papers his was the best amateur team in the state.
Next Lew jumped to the pros, signing with the Pawtucketville Athletic Club of the New England Basketball League in 1902. A crowd favorite, his games drew 2,000 fans to Huntington Hall downtown.
With a flair for the dramatic, he became known for a unique style of play, stunning half-court shots, an impossible-to-steal handle, and an unusual passing style where, when he had no other options, he directed the ball to an open spot on the court and beat everyone else to it.
The papers sang his praises, with the Sun and Courier Citizen reporting things like: “Lew is an attraction in every city and town where he plays,” “Lew is a gentle little man to look at, but when the whistle blows, he becomes a whirlwind,” and “for all-around playing, Lew is the best in the league.”
Of course, Bucky had his share of troubles. A Hudson newspaper called him his team’s “colored valet.” A New Bedford crowd tried to shout him off the floor. He was denied lodging at an inn in New Hampshire and shelter at a nearby train station. The game’s best player, Harry Hough, refused to play against him in Haverhill.
Besides these indignities, there were injuries too. He had to leave one game after being kicked in the stomach and another after sustaining a gash that required stitches. He dislocated both shoulders multiple times. One of his granddaughter Wendy’s persistent memories is seeing him sitting in his favorite chair wearing a tank top and rubbing his exposed shoulders.
Lew literally risked his life integrating basketball. A Sun reporter quoted a colleague who described the game this way: “Basketball, in short, combines all the exciting elements of boxing, wrestling…football, murder, and a house on fire.”
In those days, fistfights were often treated as simple fouls. That might not sound so bad considering the fighting skills of today’s players, but some of the players in Lew’s day were also professional boxers. With trained pugilists behind them, it’s understandable that many punches resulted in serious damage.
The Courier Citizen reported on one game between Lowell’s two pro clubs with the headline: “Two Teeth Gone from Tighe’s Set—Devlin’s Blow Loosens Ivories.” After he lost possession of the ball in a scrum, “Devlin seemed to lose his head for a moment; his fist shot out and met Tighe’s mouth, knocking a bit off two of the PAC man’s teeth. Tighe was sent into dreamland.”
Lost teeth and consciousness were bad enough, but the outcome could be even worse. Pro boxing was more popular than basketball in those days, and the year before Lew joined the PAC, one of the its players was killed in a match.
John Dion was killed at a fight in Lowell in August of 1901. According to the Sun, in its story on the “Fatal Boxing Bout,” Dion was knocked out in the ninth round of what was supposed to be a 20-round fight. After a right-left-right combination, the final blow landed “on the point of the jaw and Dion went down like a log.” Doctors at ringside were unable to revive him and he was taken to St. John’s hospital, where he died a few hours later.
But if you knew anything about Bucky, you know he wasn’t about to give up. Instead, he gave it right back. All while being careful to play within the rules. He somehow maintained a reputation as a gentlemen and never threw a punch. As one reporter said, “Lew is known throughout New England amongst basketball fans as an exceptionally clean as well as a skillful player.”
Speaking to Gerry Finn of the Springfield Union in 1958, Lew said: “All those things you read about Jackie Robinson, the abuse, the name-calling, extra effort to put him down… they’re all true. I got the same treatment and even worse…. I took the bumps, the elbows in the gut, knees here and everything else that went with it. But I gave it right back. It was rough but worth it. Once they knew I could take it, I had it made.”
While he experienced racial strife, he experienced allyship too. The press, fans, and teammates supported him. When Harry Hough refused to play him, Lew’s teammates threw the ball at his head to encourage him to move, and the league followed up by fining Hough and threatening to expel him should he try it again.
When the NEBL folded, Lew formed his own team, the Lowell Five, and barnstormed via train or borrowed Packard throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Drawing on Lowell’s various ethnic groups to fill his roster, players of Irish, French-Canadian, German, Greek, and Jewish descent appeared with the Five.
He even ran his own team when the NEBL’s founders asked him to head up Lowell’s franchise in a renewed league in 1915. To round out his resume, he coached Textile in 1922 and was the Lowell Pro League’s director of officiating in 1923. After earning the respect of his peers as both a player and an executive for a quarter century, he finally retired in 1926.
And Lew’s legacy extends beyond all that. While his beloved status is largely forgotten today, the Dodgers were likely reminded of it when they were looking their first three Black players in their minor league system in 1946.
Remember, Lew started his pro career with a team in Pawtucketville, which was also known as High Canada because of its large French-Canadian presence. PAC teams featured players with surnames like Allard, Dionne, Raicot, and Rousseau.
After Branch Rickey received a round of rejections from affiliates around the country, he finally got the answer he was looking for when he called Nashua Telegraph editor Fred Dobens. Dobens assured him the Franco-Americans in the city would welcome the players with open arms. Why was he so sure? Dobens, born in 1905, was a high school basketball star and undoubtedly grew up reading about how well Lew was received.
Rickey placed Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella in Nashua and Jackie Robinson in Montreal to start. After a successful stint in the minors, all eventually moved up to play with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the rest is history.
Regardless of all that, one Franco-American connection is clear. If my grandfather Armias hadn’t left Quebec for Lowell in the 1920s, and settled in Pawtucketville as a neighbor to the Lews, I may never have heard of the man or developed the interest in his accomplishments that inspired me to write his only book-length biography.
“The Original Bucky Lew: Basketball’s First Black Professional” is available at local bookstores and Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1613098960
Quock Walker Day Pics
Scroll through the pics provided by various attendees
Video provided & edited through the courtesy of
Mr. Stephen Malagodi
Brought by the courtesy of Mr. Stephen Malagodi
Juneteenth FLAG Raising Pics
Juneteenth Jubilee Pics
Junteenth Muldoon Park Lowell, MA